The NYT has a story today on the search for bodies of Katrina victims particularly in the Lower 9th Ward. On October 4th in a post titled “Black Bodies Remain Still” I wrote about the fact that the search for bodies was called off even though parts of the 9th had not been searched at all. The NYT story misses this important point. They focus instead on lack of funds, red tape and difficulty in searching wreckage while missing the genesis of this shameful chapter of Katrina
What needs to be made very clear in any analysis of the NOLA body search is that the Feds stopped searching in SEPTEMBER. This from MSNBC on October 3rd…
Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it had completed its role in the search, because its specialties were no longer needed. Those services include getting to bodies in attics or other hard-to-reach places or in buildings that may be structurally unsound.
This left the state scrambling at a time when their resources were stretched beyond capacity. So they took over what was originally a FEMA contract with Kenyon International Emergency Services (they’re a whole other story of corruption and cronyism). Kenyon only collected remains. They did not conduct searches. Some local fire departments and a few other search teams continued to work but it was in December that funds for such searches ran out. The NYT points out that FEMA began funding searches again in February…..
In February, FEMA agreed to pay for the search for bodies to resume, and on March 2 the agency’s special operations team was able to begin a systematic check of the 1,700 structures in the Lower Ninth Ward, the site of the city’s worst destruction.
What is clear now is that FEMA’s “specialties” were indeed still required back in October. But it was clear THEN as one volunteer searcher told CNN on October 4th
EDWARD MENDEL, SEARCH VOLUNTEER: From here back, I estimate 100 to 150 homes that are still unsearched. And I do expect we will probably find some bodies.
MESERVE (on camera): Why do you think that?
MENDEL: You can smell them as we drive by.
FEMA just pulled out then, only to have to return now. In the meantime hundreds of families have suffered the uncertainty of not knowing what happened to loved ones and some even the indignity of finding their loved one’s body in their home. The NYT article poignantly conveys what this has been like…..
Continues after the cut…click Read More
When August Blanchard returned to New Orleans from Pennsylvania in late December, his mother was still missing. Family members, scattered across the country, had been calling hospitals, the Red Cross and missing persons hot lines, hoping she had been rescued.
But Mr. Blanchard, 26, had a bad feeling. Twice, he drove past the pale green house on Reynes Street in the Lower Ninth Ward, where he and his mother, Charlene Blanchard, 45, had lived, yet he could not bring himself to enter.
It was not until Feb. 25 that one of Mr. Blanchard’s uncles nudged the front door open with his foot and spied Ms. Blanchard’s hand. Dressed in her nightgown and robe, she lay under a moldering sofa. With her was a red velvet bedspread that her daughter had given her and a huge teddy bear.
To Geneva Celestine, Ms. Blanchard’s mother, who was on the front porch of the house when her body was discovered, not being able to bury her daughter is only the latest in an exhausting series of horrors.
“It’s awful,” she said by telephone from Pennsylvania. “To go there and find your own child, something they’re supposed to be doing. Something they’ve got paid to do. And you see the mark on the house. It’s really sad.”
I couldn’t help but question then and still do now if this had been a predominantly white area would the searches have continued? If not racism it certainly shows a terrible lack of humanity on the part of officials. How could it happen in America that our dead were not even sought or collected when it was known that bodies remained? This certainly wasn’t the case for 9/11 victims which I thought was our standard. We abandoned our dead in New Orleans plain and simple. Most were black. However now it is clear given the federal government’s lack of leadership, vision and funding for levees, home buyouts and infrastructure that the abandonment of New Orleanians has become an equal opportunity stain on our humanity.